Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has asked fans and critics for patience with England striker Danny Welbeck and his team after a forlorn display in their 2-0 Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.
Wenger, who takes his team to second-placed Aston Villa for a key Premier League fixture on Saturday, admitted Arsenal were well beaten by a dominant Dortmund whose pressing game squeezed his team into submission and exposed all their frailties.
“It’s very difficult to go into any individual assessment of any player because as a team we were not at the requested level,” said Wenger.”They were very, very strong in midfield, yes, stronger than us in midfield,” he said. “It was very difficult…”
Wenger, who has guided Arsenal into the Champions League group stages for 17 successive years, was reluctant to dwell on his team’s defects until he has seen videos of the game again, but defended Welbeck, a 16 million pounds transfer window deadline day signing from Manchester United.
“Danny will improve – we don’t have to make a problem of that,” he told reporters. “He had a very lively first half. He had two or three good chances, but couldn’t finish them. There was one obvious one… We have to be patient with him.”
Welbeck wasted his easiest of three chances in the first half when, with the score still goalless, he turned on to a pass from Aaron Ramsey, but steered his shot wide.
It was, said one commentator, an example of the bright movement that showed why Arsenal has signed him and, at the same time, a miss that explained why United had been happy to sell him.
Welbeck scored both goals in England’s Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland on September 8, just a week after his transfer, but he has not scored a Premier League goal since March 8 when Manchester United won 3-0 at West Bromwich Albion.
His profligacy was more starkly exposed either side of the interval when Dortmund’s strikers Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completed rapid breakaways with clinical finishes.
By the end, Dortmund had accumulated 22 shots to Arsenal’s four, prompting suggestions it was “like men against boys” and exposing the English team’s lack of a defensive midfielder to protect a fragile defence.
Captain Mikel Arteta, retained by Wenger when he rejected a chance to re-sign Cesc Fabregas, who instead joined Chelsea, was overrun and struggled with his passing under pressure.
The diminutive left side of Arsenal’s team – left-back Kieron Gibbs and midfielders Jack Wilshere and, when not switching to the right, German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil – appeared to lack the required power, pace and height to cope up with the pressure.
Others, including Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, were anonymous on the night and laboured to make any impact.
“Arsenal papered over the cracks last season,” their former striker and Wales international John Hartson told the BBC, adding “they could have conceded five or six… Without overreacting, it was a really woeful defensive performance.”
Wenger’s subdued mood suggested he had realised the inclusion of 19-year-old Spanish defender Hector Bellerin, given his debut in the daunting Westfalenstadion, was also a gamble that did not pay off.